Penscynor Wildlife Park: Traumatic chimpanzee escape remembered

Are you able to think about three agitated, male chimpanzees escaping from a zoo and heading straight for a main faculty?

Nicely, that is precisely what occurred in a single south Wales village.

On 5 February 1992, the primates broke free from their enclosure at Penscynor Wildlife Park in Neath.

Two of them – named Robbie and Sebcoe – had been shot lifeless by police marksmen.

Howie Watkins, who later discovered fame as a presenter on BBC’s The Actually Wild Present, was working on the zoo on the time.

“It was an terrible and traumatic expertise for anybody who was near it – it is one thing many people have by no means received over,” he stated.

‘The power to drag your arms off’

Howie was an training officer on the zoo, which closed its gates for the ultimate time 25 years in the past this month.

“Sadly three grownup males had been having a battle and in so doing discovered a design flaw of their enclosure and escaped,” stated Howie.

Chimps could have a repute for being cute, however Howie stated that would not be farther from the reality.

“They’re an extremely highly effective animal, they have a chunk that exceeds that of hyena and the power to drag your arms off in the event that they wish to,” stated Howie, who has a level in organic science.

Pandemonium ensued.

“I collected folks from the zoo, took them to my flat on the premises, taken care of them and saved them protected,” Howie stated.

“Some folks took refuge within the bogs and it took some time to search out them so they’d a reasonably disagreeable time.”

BBC Wales Right this moment reported on the incident on the time, with one resident telling them: “One jumped off a wall and chased me down the highway… I simply ran, I wasn’t messing about with it, I would gone.”

Chimps Robbie and Sebcoe had been born within the park and had been “like household” to Jon Quant, who grew up on the zoo after it was opened by his grandfather, Idris Hale.

He stated as soon as the chimps had left the zoo grounds and headed for the close by faculty he had no selection however to contain armed police.

“As painful because it was and as traumatic because it was for us, I most popular that final result to having to inform a dad or mum why their youngster would not be coming dwelling,” he stated.

Cathryn Skerry, then aged 9, recalled an announcement being made to her class at close by Catwg Main College.

“The trainer stated that we would not have the ability to depart faculty on time as a result of there have been chimps on the free within the village,” she stated.

“I keep in mind there being excited chatter amongst the youngsters.”

Police called to Penscynor on the day the chimps escaped

Police on the scene following the chimp escape in February 1992

Rumours of alleged sightings unfold shortly.

“I keep in mind my older brother saying that from his science classroom he had seen monkeys taking part in on the rugby pitch and swinging from the posts,” she stated.

“I do not assume we had been advised they’d been shot, I simply thought they’d been caught.”

Howie stated the scenario might have been far worse.

‘Fortunate no person was killed’

“To be in the course of it, it was terrifying, traumatic and we’re fortunate no person was killed,” Howie stated.

“A number of of us [zoo staff] had our little self-help group the place we would sit and speak about it over and over and over.

“Ask anybody who’s been by way of a traumatic expertise, you simply want somebody to speak to.”

The story of the escaped chimps is considered one of many desirable tales from Penscynor Wildlife Park.

Regardless of the passing of time, folks stay keen on the attraction. You’ll be able to nonetheless purchase Penscynor t-shifts, automobile stickers or be part of a Fb group to reminisce.

Penscynor Wildlife Park owner Idris Hale holds a blue and gold macaw in November 1989

Idris Hale, who died in 2001, opened the zoo in 1971

The zoo started life in 1966 as Idris Hale’s personal chook assortment and finally expanded, opening to the general public in 1971.

It attracted over 200,000 guests a 12 months in its heyday.

Mr Hale’s grandson Jon, who would later take over the working of the zoo, had a childhood that may be the envy of many.

“I used to be born within the zoo, I grew up within the zoo,” he stated.

“It was a magical dream from begin to end.”

Jon stated he would come dwelling from faculty “and there’d be a chimpanzee or two working across the kitchen in my grandmother’s home”.

“I would get up in the course of the evening to feed the penguins’ child chicks,” he added.

Penscynor Wildlife Park sign

In its heyday the zoo attracted about 200,000 guests a 12 months

Heather O’Shea, now 41, who grew up in close by Cimla, remembers being stung on the underside by a wasp whereas celebrating her birthday on the zoo.

“I used to be crying about it loads so the zookeeper gave me a free ice cream,” she stated.

She additionally remembers a parrot, who had apparently spent a variety of time listening to Radio 1, singing the Kylie Minogue basic I Ought to Be So Fortunate.

“However it’s fully doable that I imagined that,” she laughed.

Howie entertaining the crowds at Penscynor

Howie entertaining the crowds at Penscynor

Howie stated parrots had been a favorite for a lot of visiting kids, “particularly those that swore as a result of we would give houses to ex-pets on some events”.

Like many native children, Lucy Johnson-Brown had a summer season job on the zoo, promoting ice cream and drinks.

“You possibly can have a go on the alpine slide on the finish of your shift,” she stated.

“Everybody completely cherished Penscynor.”

For Glenda Lewis, 68, from Crofty in Swansea, the park was a supply of particular recollections of her late dad.

She cherishes {a photograph} of him holding a chimpanzee that had moved to the zoo after starring within the PG Ideas adverts.

“All of us cherished visiting Penscynor,” she stated.

Howie Watkins hands Rob Brydon a snake live from Penscynor Wildlife Park on See you Sunday on 29 March 1992

Howie Watkins palms Rob Brydon a snake dwell from Penscynor Wildlife Park on See you Sunday on 29 March 1992

Years of growth had been adopted by a drop in customer numbers and the zoo closed in September 1998.

Chatting with BBC Wales Right this moment on the time, Mr Hale’s grandson Jon, who had taken over the working of the zoo in March 1996, stated: “It was borne out of 1 man’s dream and dedication to the conservation and to training of future generations. However actually if it isn’t paying for itself then it has to go.”

Howie, who by this time had left the zoo, was nonetheless in contact with most of the workers.

“There wasn’t time to be unhappy as a result of new houses needed to be discovered for all of the animals and so everybody was working very, very onerous, proper to the tip,” he stated.

Jon stated after years of constructing a loss, a £50,000 revenue was predicted in 1998.

Nevertheless, the climate was not on their aspect, guests stayed away and the projected figures had been revised to a £150,000 loss.

A board assembly was referred to as and the choice was made to shut the zoo for good.

“It was tough. You’ve got received a variety of feelings, a variety of recollections tied up,” stated Jon.

Left to right: Howie Watkins, Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, taken for The Really Wild Show in Jan 1995

After leaving Penscynor, Howie went on to current on BBC’s The Actually Wild present – pictured right here in 1995 with Chris Packham (center) and Michaela Strachan

Trying again, Howie stated he was very glad to be part of it.

“It allowed me to develop as a performer, allowed me to develop as an educator, it allowed me to actually really make a bit of little bit of a distinction to the youngsters and younger those who I taught there,” he stated.

Jon additionally seems to be again with fondness.

“It was an unimaginable place to dwell and to develop up and I believe I will be eternally grateful that I had the chance to expertise that over time,” he stated.

“I am simply glad that we introduced a variety of happiness and a variety of fond recollections to an terrible lot of individuals.”

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